Crimes are classified in a variety of ways, depending on the severity of the offense. Usually, crimes will fall into one of two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Each state has its own rules for determining whether an offense will be classified as one or the other, and also for establishing penalties under each category.

If you’ve recently been charged with a crime, you might be wondering what penalties you might suffer. Knowing the difference between misdemeanor and felony crimes will give you an idea of what you can expect as far as punishment goes and whether or not you should hire a criminal defense lawyer. Below is a look at the main distinctions between misdemeanors and felonies.

Misdemeanors

A misdemeanor is the lesser type of offense, and so, has fewer implications than a felony. However, that doesn’t mean that those accused of committing a misdemeanor won’t be subject to punishment. Anyone who is charged with a misdemeanor can face up to one year in jail. However, depending on the type of crime, some cases may not result in jail time. Among the most common types of misdemeanors include petty theft, disorderly conduct, and other nonviolent offenses.

Felonies

Felonies are much more serious than misdemeanors and carry much heavier penalties. Usually, those convicted of a felony will be looking at spending over one year in jail. Felony crimes can include murder, rape, arson, and others. Though violent crimes don’t usually fall into the misdemeanor category, some nonviolent offenses can be classified as felonies. IRS crimes like tax evasion, grand theft, and perjury are among the nonviolent offenses that can incur a felony punishment.

Anyone accused of a felony should definitely seek help with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Because of how much is at stake with these types of crimes, hiring a lawyer can ensure that the rights of the accused are protected. Even in misdemeanor cases, it is always wise to obtain legal counsel to ensure the best possible outcome.

Criminal defense lawyers can negotiate plea deals, can lower the overall extent of the penalties, and may even get the charges completely wiped out. Plus, the majority of attorneys offer free initial consultations, where the accused can ask questions and gain a better understanding of what the lawyer may or may not be able to accomplish. Even the most minor of offenses can result in jail time, especially if the offender has previously been convicted. Representation with a criminal defense attorney can decrease the chances of sustaining the maximum penalty.